Duterte, Dating, & Diplomacy in the Nuclear Age

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Dating and Diplomacy in the Age of Nuclear Missiles…

Part ten million one of a seemingly infinite series.

Note: For the deepest emotional experience, please play “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics as you read this article.

Diplomacy is at times a bit like dating. We’ve all felt that thrilling infatuation. Sometimes it leads to a great night or weekend, or, if you’re very lucky, a few good decades. But in romance, as in foreign policy, some relationships start poorly and go to hell all too quickly. At least in those cases, when the first date is horrific, you have a chance to avoid a bad marriage with an abusive creep. Don’t pass on the chance.

 

Philippine Pres. Rodrigo "Rody" Duterte Image by Gvt. of the Philippines, public domain

Philippine Pres. Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte
Image by Gvt. of the Philippines, public domain

 

Many of our readers are now quite familiar with the challenges and problems facing the US and other nations in the South China Sea. The short description of those problems is “China.”

Many readers are also familiar with that colorful new celebrity on the world stage, Rodrigo “Rody” Roa Duterte. Normally, sensible people avoid weird-acting dudes called “Rody,” but this particular weird dude is now the leader of one of our key Asian allies, the Republic of the Philippines.

Most Americans and Westerners became aware of Rody this summer when, within a matter of a few weeks, he publicly called the US Ambassador to the Philippines a “gay son of a bitch” and then, for an encore, he called US President Obama “that son of a whore.” Foreign policy gurus the world over are all prompted to ask the same obvious question. I can answer that obvious question here and now. US Intelligence services have definitive evidence that, in spite of the strong similarities between them, Rody Duterte is not the long lost brother of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Rody’s anti-American outbursts were prompted by the fact that the US government, in an underwhelming response to the alleged 3,000+ recent murders by Rody death squads, had suggested to him that he might please consider following the Philippines constitution when conducting his campaign against “crime, corruption, and drugs.”

The Philippines does indeed have serious problems with violent crime, corruption, and drug addiction. When Rody Duterte was the mayor of Davao City, he gained fame, and infamy, by conducting a violent campaign against criminals. Some questioned if, while killing drug dealers and drug addicts, he hadn’t accidentally murdered a few innocent Philippines citizens that happened to oppose his political career. Accidents do happen. In Davao City and Manila, they seem to happen a lot.

While Duterte has only recently become an annoying clown to Americans and Westerners, he’s been aggravating folks in the Philippines and neighboring states for a few years.

As Mayor of Davao City, when journalists questioned him about possible connections to extrajudicial death squads, he casually responded “Yeah, I am death squad.” Prior to being elected to the presidency of the Philippines, Duterte bragged to reporters that he would kill up to 100,000 criminals if elected President.

In May of 2015, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Duterte of being involved in more than a thousand killings. It accused him of being what he said he was. In a television interview, Duterte responded by saying that the group should go ahead and file a complaint with the UN, and then he would show the world how stupid they are by killing them.

In 1989, a 36-year-old Australian lay minister named Jacqueline Hamill was held hostage, raped, had her throat slashed, and was shot during a prison riot in the Philippines. In April of 2016, during his Presidential campaign, Duterte, referred to the rape and murder of Jacqueline Hamill, saying, “I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.” Yes, the mayor that he was referring to was himself. He thought he should have been the first to rape Jacqueline Hamill.

So what are the impacts to Rody’s ignorant and barbaric behavior?

It depends on whom we ask. During a recent social call on American Artist John Alexander, I asked him to describe Duterte. John described him as “A Post-Modernist Head Hunter.” That seemed reasonably artistic to me.

When asked what they thought of Rody Duterte, the Philippine people responded by electing him President. We should not ignore this obvious evidence of the Philippine people’s desperation concerning rampant crime and corruption in the Philippines.

For China, Rody had to seem like a wonderful opportunity.

A week before the September 6, 2016 Asian Summit in Laos, Rody dramatically warned China that it would “face a reckoning” for its aggression in the “Philippine Sea.” Then, a couple of days before the summit, he switched over to his Anti-American rhetoric, demanding that the US stay out of Philippine domestic policy. After returning from the summit, Rody seemed to have experienced a Chinese-style epiphany. Rody then said that the Philippines remained committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict in the South China Sea, and he urgently advised “the US to not escalate matters in the South China Sea.” The wording sounded like vintage Chinese diplomatic dogma.

So what caused the wild vacillation in Rody’s passionate political opinions?

The Chinese government does not believe in the “prayer and meditation method” of achieving epiphanies. They do believe in cash and ruthless pragmatism in the shameless pursuit of unrestrained self-interest when conducting diplomacy. I can only wonder what China might have whispered to Duterte during the Asian Summit in Laos.

For the current US administration and for any future US administration, Duterte adds to the complexity of dealing with China in the South China Sea.

The US obviously hopes to continue to help the Philippines build a credible defense capability. The US has pursued this goal by sending military aid, investing many millions of dollars in military base construction for the Philippine military, and sending military advisors in large numbers to the island nation. Those US military advisors are not happy with the Philippine government’s glib attitude concerning the casual murder of civilians in the Philippines. Duterte loves the American cash, free military equipment, and the advisors as long as the advisors don’t attempt to advise him to be civilized.

Any US President will have to worry about Rody Duterte’s wild behavior.

For his part, Rody seems thrilled at the prospect of taking advantage of the US desire to resist Chinese hegemony in the West Pacific. At the same time, he cozies up to China. Older Americans will recognize the similarity to the routine Cold War diplomatic dilemma. The US often showered cash and military equipment on pathetically bad despots in order to simply keep those countries from allying with the USSR.

My best guess is that this US administration and the next will try to deal with Duterte as best they can without being suckered into a spending competition with China.

The Philippine people have elected and tolerated Rody Duterte in the hope of reducing corruption, crime, and drugs in the Philippines. If Rody pulls that off, then the Philippines will have an opportunity to prosper, but if his brutal methods don’t create real results, then the Philippine people will tire of him and elect someone else.

Buying an ally with cash and free military equipment is never a sound basis for a reliable alliance. Buying that ally and only getting an enemy for your cash is worse. We in the US will have to dispassionately evaluate Rody Duterte and the Philippines and act accordingly. This is no time for the US to “lead with the check book.”

People’s Republic of China — The Pirate of the South China Sea

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On July 12, 2016, a landmark event occurred for the South China Sea — the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against the People’s Republic of China in a case filed by the Philippines under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, rejecting China’s claims to western Philippine islands.

 

China's Maritime Claim (red) UNCLOS Exclusive Economic Zones (blue) Image by Goran Tek-en, wikimedia commons.

China’s Maritime Claim (red)
UNCLOS Exclusive Economic Zones (blue)
Image by Goran Tek-en, wikimedia commons.

 

In 2013, the Philippines filed the case as a direct challenge to Communist China’s expansive territorial claims that stretch to within a hundred miles of the Philippines west coast.

The court’s ruling makes it clear that the international community has rejected China’s imperialist aggression in the South China Sea. There are no enforcement provisions in the UN convention, so the court ruling against China does nothing to directly prevent it from continuing to expand its presence in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, the ruling is a major diplomatic and public relations disaster for China’s imperialist agenda.

The ruling matters to several countries for several different reasons.

It completely validates the positions of Communist China’s opponents in the dispute. Since the ruling, Indonesia, Malaysia, and to a lesser extent Borneo have experienced an increase in public interest in opposing the China’s aggression.

In the Philippines, the public celebrated the ruling while protesting against China.

Interestingly, the current administration in the Philippines has, with less fanfare, increased its efforts to negotiate economic sharing of the South China Sea. China is happy to play along with negotiations, but their word will be about as good as it usually is, which is not at all.

In Vietnam, the response has been less public.

Vietnam continues to oppose the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea dispute, but it has been careful this week to not allow public anger against China to manifest in the form of protests at Chinese diplomatic facilities in Vietnam. For the moment, Hanoi is taking a quiet but determined approach in dealing with China and is happy for the conflict to be framed as a Philippine-China problem on public relations terms. Vietnam’s caution is understandable. The closest points of land between the Philippines and Communist China are over 500 miles away from each other. The distance from China to Vietnam is only an inch.

The government of France made what might appear to be a surprising, or perhaps comical, move by announcing that it will support free navigation in the South China Sea by conducting freedom of passage exercises.

France has stated that it remains devoted to international law and order . . . Right. Maybe so. But for the moment, I’ll view France’s “freedom of navigation plans” in the South China Sea with a bit of historical context.

For reasons of free trade, France, along with nearly everyone on the globe, has a legitimate interest in the free navigation of the South China Sea. Additionally, France understandably wants to maintain maritime communications through the South China Sea between its colonial outposts in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However, as far as France’s noble and rather sudden religious devotion to global peace law and order, I remain skeptical. This is the same nation that wanted to deliver two Mistral class carriers to Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Currently, the French government is continuing to do all that it can to support the French defense industry through the export of warships, fighter planes, air transports, armor, artillery etc. If it could convince anyone that croissants or French lingerie were useful defense products, they’d be busy boxing some up at this very moment. Come to think of it, French lingerie would be a major improvement at all those damned boring European defense industry expos. I’ll take a French lingerie model over a skanky Airbus 400 any day.

French freedom of navigation exercises won’t do much to dissuade Beijing’s imperialist agenda, but they might drum up some nice weapons sales for French corporations.

I’m not at all opposed to France competing in the world arms market. For one thing, people that are forced to share a planet with the likes of Communist China, North Korea, Russia, and the various Jihadistans have a right to defend themselves. Some of the less fortunate countries don’t have a Lockheed Martin, an Airbus, or a Finmeccanica on which to lavish trillions of dollars or euros. These less fortunate nations must lavish their paltry billions on foreign suppliers.

When the capitalist warmongering US or the holier-than-thou peace loving European nations manage to sell their defense products on the international market, it enables their defense industries to maintain higher quality and innovation in the weapons that their own militaries use.

France is, after all, an ally of the US and an important member of NATO. So that’s fine if the French can drum up another big defense contract. I just don’t want to gloss over France’s arms sales campaigns with anything like “…devoted to international law and order,” or any other pseudo socialist pabulum.

In China, the response has been predictable and highly managed as ever.

The People’s Republic of China has allowed an egg throwing festival-type protest against the demon aggressor Obama. The government provided members of its public with large quantities of eggs and posters of Obama to use as targets. If China didn’t have nuclear weapons, they’d be so damned funny.

In Beijing, no protests were allowed at the US or Philippine embassies. Also, China has minimized the rage factor against Obama and the Philippines on the internet. The interesting thing is that China is choosing not to overextend its credibility with the Chinese public by overplaying the old “rage against the capitalists” routine.

That restraint tells us something important — Communist China is not as confident as it likes to pretend to be about its ambitions in the South China Sea.

While swearing that it will never back down an inch, it in fact is hoping to negotiate a face saving way out of its South China Sea public relations disaster. Otherwise, it would be encouraging a much more toxic rage in the Chinese public.

The People’s Republic of China routinely relies on manufactured outrage to try to manage public and international policy. It’s a tough habit to break, even momentarily. For Communist China, its most dangerous and vicious opponent in the South China Sea remains Communist China. That is perhaps the one thing that it and the US have in common in the South China Sea.

So what does all this mean to US taxpayers?

The US administration won’t gloat about the ruling against China. Along with everyone else, the US expected this result, but the US will continue to encourage Communist China’s neighbors to better develop their own defenses to deal with that country’s imperialist agenda.

The US will continue freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, but at the same time, this administration and congress won’t take the obvious steps for opposing China’s imperial agenda by withdrawing its “most favored nation” status.

Corporate America and American consumers will continue to support Communist China’s economy by purchasing low quality overpriced junk from it. The trade balance between the US and China will remain hideously unfavorable to US taxpayers and the US economy, but don’t expect this congress or this administration to do anything about it. They won’t.

The important silver lining to all this is that although the People’s Republic of China will never admit it to the Chinese people, it clearly does not intend a major military escalation in the Pacific.

Its usual temper tantrums are not working, and in China, as on Wall Street, money talks. The shrill Communist Chinese rhetoric will continue, but expect some quiet back alley diplomacy from the Chinese in the next few years.

The People’s Republic of China will demand everything, but it will take what it can get.

Chinese Aggression Spurs New Alliances for Japan

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is causing Japan to strengthen its alliance with the US and build new and unlikely partnerships with some traditional enemies.

 

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito Image by State Dept., public domain

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito
Image by State Dept., public domain

 

Building a stronger defensive alliance with Japan is the least challenging foreign policy task faced by the Obama administration. It is also the easiest foreign relationship from the point of view of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

Modern Japan and the US share similar political and social values, and both countries are strongly independent and democratic in structure and outlook. At times in the past, trade imbalances and the vast US presence in Okinawa have stressed the US-Japan relationship, but those issues never prevented strong military and diplomatic cooperation. The two countries have shared a consistently solid relationship since the founding of modern Japan in 1947.

To understand the US-Japan relationship, we should consider Japan’s geographic and political dilemmas.

Japan imports most of its fossil fuels and about sixty percent of its food. Free navigation of the seas is critical to Japan’s prosperity, and even to its very existence. To varying degrees Russia, China, and North Korea all pose serious threats to Japan’s national security. In a sense, Japan is the “Israel” of the Pacific. They have no allies in their region. Fortunately, this may be changing.

China remains bitter for the brutal invasion and occupation carried out by Imperial Japan during the first half of the twentieth century.

 

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Image public domain.

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen.
Image public domain.

 

China’s communist government has found it convenient for its political mythology to foment hatred toward Japan rather than seek reconciliation. Fifty years ago, Japan could afford to be less concerned with China’s hatred.

As the People’s Republic of China has begun to overcome its long history of inept and self-destructive government, it has been able to develop its massive population and considerable natural resources.

Having established a stronger economy and a stronger military, China has made itself more “relevant” in the Pacific. Unfortunately for them and for everyone else, they have chosen to seek “relevancy” and legitimacy through increased aggression toward their neighbors. As China’s military strength and aggressive attitude grows, so grows Japan’s concern for self-defense.

The one challenge that remains in US-Japan relations is Japan’s poor relationships with other US allies in the Pacific.

The US has had a close, though rather one-sided, relationship with South Korea since WWII. That relationship has been based on the US’s willingness to defend South Korea against its communist neighbors. While North Korea remains a menace and a constant nuisance to both South Korea and Japan, until recently that has not been enough motive to bring the two nations closer. Both South Koreans and North Koreans remain angry over the Japanese occupation prior to and during WWII.

However, there are now signs of a thaw in relations between South Korea and Japan.

To a degree, North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s increasing aggression are motivating Japan and South Korea to cooperate more on issues of trade and defense. It may take several more decades for South Koreans to form a more favorable view of Japan, but if the Japanese exercise some diplomatic skill, they may eventually be able to change their image in South Korea. This would enable more effective military cooperation against the growing threats from the North Koreans and China.

A similar three-way dilemma exists between Japan, the Philippines, and the US.

For the same historic reasons, Japan remains unpopular in the Philippines while the US maintains close relations with both countries. As with South Korea and Japan, the US has long hoped for and attempted to promote closer relations between the Philippines and Japan.

In the case of the Philippines, there have been strong signs of growing cooperation with Japan.

Recently, a Japanese warship took part in naval exercises with the US and the Philippine navies. Even as recently as two years ago, the presence of a Japanese warship in Philippine coastal waters would have been completely unwelcome in the Philippines. In another clear sign that China’s aggression is forcing Japan and the Philippines together, Japan is selling jet trainer aircraft to the Philippines. This sale is a major event in Philippine-Japan relations.

By quietly acting as a go-between, the US has been able to help Japan begin to build better relations with its Western Pacific neighbors.

In military terms, relations between Japan and the US are very good and getting better. Japan continues to allow the US to maintain considerable air and naval forces in Japanese territory, and the working relationship between US and Japanese forces is excellent. Senior military officers from both nations have a high degree of trust in each other’s ability and integrity. When the US and Japanese militaries make an agreement, both sides are confident that the agreement will be carried out.

Perhaps the single greatest impact thus far from China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea can be seen in Japan.

The Japanese constitution limits Japan to a relatively small self-defense force. While the Japanese self-defense force is small, it is high in quality. Whenever the Japanese government has committed to building ships for its maritime self-defense force, the ships have been well designed, well built, and delivered on time. Japanese politicians and voters are starting to consider expanding their military both in budgetary and doctrinal terms. In budgetary terms, Japan has made small increases in expenditures, and they are now developing their own stealth fighter. This new stealth fighter is in addition to Japan’s participation in the expensive US led F-35 program.

 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base Image public domain.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base
Image public domain.

 

In doctrinal terms, Japan was willing to participate in naval exercises in the Philippines.

Until recently, the Japanese government and Japanese voters would have considered such a deployment unacceptable. The Japanese voters still have a deep aversion for involving themselves in another war of aggression, but they are beginning to accept that the security of the Philippines directly impacts their own national security.

Over eighty percent of Japan’s oil comes from the Mideast. Since the Fukushima nuclear power plant leak disaster in 2011, Japan’s oil import requirements have increased. Free navigation of the international waters of the South China/West Philippine Sea is even more critical to Japan than it is to the Philippines.

The US has announced that the linchpin for US strategy in the Pacific will be the Philippines.

In reality, that only appears to be the case because of how little Japan needs to improve its self-defense as compared to how desperately the Philippines needs to build a credible military. For diplomatic reasons, both the US and Japan prefer to publicly keep the focus on the Philippines.

The relationship between Japan and the US has evolved in to one of equality, shared values, and genuine mutual respect. Whatever problems might arise between the US and Japan, the relationship will remain strong.

The Japanese people have no desire to create a Japanese hegemony in the Pacific, but China’s expansionist agenda has forced them to accept a greater role in international affairs in the region.

In our next episode, we will consider the changing US-Malaysian relationship.

Critical Threshold for US-Philippine Relations

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On August 26, 2015, the Philippine government took a major step in Philippine foreign policy toward its closest ally, the US.

During an official visit to the Philippines, the commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, met with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. During that meeting, Secretary Gazmin requested US military assistance in resupplying Philippine military forces in the West Philippine Sea, or, as China calls it, the South China Sea.

Though largely ignored by most Western media outlets, that request is a signal event in US-Philippine relations.

Those of us who remember that the US military was unable to settle workable continued lease terms for two huge major US bases in the Philippines in 1992 might have to subdue an automatic “we told you so” response. Harris is a smart man, and he gave no such smug response. Instead, he politely listened and agreed to pass the request up the chain of command.

 

Spratly Islands with flags from the five contenders. Image by CIA, public domain.

Spratly Islands with flags from the five contenders.
Image by CIA, public domain.

 

The Spratly Islands, which lie between Viet Nam and the main Philippine islands, are germane to this request.

The islands are under conflicting claims between the Philippines, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, and Brunei. Since the largest of the Spratlys, Taiping Island, is only 110 acres at best, depending on the tide, it is clear that the land in the Spratlys is not what is central to the competing claims. Even the fishing rights, oil, and natural gas deposits are not what really drive the claims.

The critical underlying issue is the effect that a successful territorial claim would have in defining the national boundaries of China and the other claimant nations, and how those boundaries would impact navigation through what has previously been considered international waters.

The Philippines’ request for military assistance from the US is, on the surface, simple enough. However, beneath the surface, there has been a lack of unity on several issues that have greatly impacted US-Philippine relations since the fortunate demise of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The standard view of the fall of Marcos and the rise of Corazon Aquino in 1986 holds that the Marcos regime ended, Aquino brought democracy, the new democracy evicted the US from Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Field Air Force Base, and everyone lived happily ever after. The reality was, and remains, somewhat more complex.

 

Clark Air Force Base in Philippines, 1989. Image by US Air Force, public domain.

Clark Air Force Base in Philippines, 1989.
Image by US Air Force, public domain.

 

Marcos died, but the Marcos regime did not quite die with him.

The pressure for the US to abandon its bases in the Philippines did not come from a populist groundswell of Filipino public opinion, as was assumed by most Western journalists. Many on the right assumed that the US would, and should, remain. Many working class Filipinos also had no desire to see the US gather up its cash and leave. In fact, according to Philippine research, 85% of the Philippine people viewed the US favorably then, and still do today. Principally, wealthy landowners and the senators that they owned drove the desire for the US to leave. They saw the US as having enabled the fall of Marcos and the eventual rise of Corazon Aquino, a land reformer, to the presidency in 1986.

 

Corazon Aquino, 1986, at Andrews Air Force Base. Image by US Air Force, public domain.

Corazon Aquino, 1986, at Andrews Air Force Base.
Image by US Air Force, public domain.

 

One of the central themes in Corazon Aquino’s campaign was land reform, which was not a welcome concept to the wealthy plantation owners.

In 1972, her husband, Senator Benigno Aquino, was arrested and imprisoned on various charges after he spoke out against the Marcos regime. In 1980, after Benigno Aquino suffered a heart attack in prison, Imelda Marcos, likely in part due to US pressure, arranged for him and his family to travel to the US for medical treatment and asylum. The Marcos regime and the wealthy landowners that supported it hoped that they had seen the last of the troublesome Aquino family. They hadn’t.

In 1983, Marcos was hospitalized for a kidney transplant, and reformers sensed change in the wind. Aquino, well aware of the danger that awaited him, returned home to the Philippines, intending to battle the Marcos regime from prison by way of grass roots public support. He thought it would work. Unfortunately for Aquino, Marcos thought it would work, too.

When Aquino stepped off the plane, security forces ushered him toward a waiting van. He was shot in the back of the head, and he died before reaching the hospital. Marcos and his pals had allowed a hapless communist agent to slip past the massive security scheme, and he may or may not have fired the .357 magnum revolver that killed Aquino. He may have simply been placed in the right location to be framed for the murder. The communist agent was shot dead at the scene, too, so we can’t ask his opinion.

 

Statue of Benigno Aquino, Jr. in Conception, Tarlac. Image by Ramon F Valasquez, CC3 License, wikimedia commons.

Statue of Benigno Aquino, Jr.
in Conception, Tarlac.
Image by Ramon F Valasquez,
CC3 License, wikimedia commons.

 

The murder of Aquino backfired on the Marcos gang.

Benigno Aquino became a martyr for the people of the Philippines. Aquino’s funeral on August 31, 1983, started at 9:00 a.m. at Santo Domingo Church with the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Sin, conducting the mass. It ended at 9 p.m., when Aquino was buried at the Manila Memorial Park. More than two million people lined the streets during the procession, which was broadcast by the Catholic Church-controlled Radio Veritas. The state controlled media did not broadcast the funeral. Eventually, after Corazon Aquino became president in 1986, twenty-four members of the Philippine military were convicted for conspiring to murder Senator Benigno Aquino.

Most of the long-awaited fairytale democracy has yet to materialize in the Philippines, but democracy has survived, land reform did occur, and now here we are in 2015, fielding a request from the Philippine government for military assistance. And who occupies the office of president of the Philippines now? Benigno Aquino III, the son of the late Senator Benigno Aquino II.

 

Inauguration of Benigno Aquino, III in June, 2010. Image by Govt. of Philippines, public domain.

Inauguration of Benigno Aquino, III in June, 2010.
Image by Govt. of Philippines, public domain.

 

So, what does that request for US military assistance mean in real terms?

It means that in 2015, the Philippines live too close to China. It also means the Philippines has not yet fielded a credible military force to prevent Communist China from moving its border to within two hundred miles of its shores. At this point, even the pissed off ex-landowners are thinking that the US Navy, backed up by a US Air Force, operating from US funded non-US bases in the Philippines could make life easier in the South China/West Philippine Sea.

To state this simply and accurately, the country of the Philippines is requesting that the US play the role of the colonial protectorate in guarding Philippine transport through the Spratly Islands. The Philippines is asking the US to risk military confrontation with China on its behalf.

What’s in it for the US?

The primary advantage is keeping international maritime traffic open through the region. It is not in the US interest for China to expand its Exclusive Economic Zone and its border to the eastern edge of the Spratly Islands. Another advantage is that, if the US must ever resort to a conflict with China, the alliance with the Philippines has the potential to extend the US perimeter to the Spratlys, helping to keep the fight away from our shores.

And how will the US respond to the request?

Cautiously, and quietly . . . We have been waiting for that request for a few years now, and nobody in the Pentagon or the State Department was surprised by it. The preference thus far has been to encourage the Philippines to start building a credible Navy and Air Force. That might happen one day, but not soon enough.

Lots of plans have been announced, but five years into their planned grand naval expansion, the Philippines has yet to acquire a functioning frigate to send to the Spratlys. Their new fifty meter patrol craft are not going to scare the Chinese. I cannot read the mind of President Obama or his closest advisors, but I don’t imagine that the White House would be anxious to commit to another military escalation while heading into a campaign season. A slogan such as “More Wars for Your Enjoyment” isn’t going to win any elections.

My best guess is that the US will step up diplomatic efforts to encourage closer military ties between the Philippines and all its neighbors not named “China.”

In the meantime, China is now dealing with economic problems and complex domestic political intrigues, and it is not as rock-solidly prepared as it would like us to believe to escalate beyond harassment and intimidation in the Spratlys. China will take everything it can get by way of intimidation, but I don’t see it significantly escalating its aggression in the Spratly Islands in the near future.

 

Manila–Triumph Over Devastation

By Jay Holmes

In The Scream Heard Around the World–Manila, Part 1, we saw the far-reaching effects of a speech given by Carlos Cespedes in Cuba and how it spawned a movement for freedom in both Cuba and the Philippines. In The Battle That Wasn’t–Manila, Part 2, we looked at how the reach of that scream carried on through a poem by Dr. Jose Rizal and influenced the course of a nation. In A Nation Becoming and the Battle for Manila, we investigated the challenges the budding Philippine nation faced, as well as the WWII Japanese invasion and the Bataan Death March. Today, we review the Japanese occupation of Manila, WWII, and the realization of Dr. Rizal’s dream.

After the Japanese defeated the main formations of U.S. and Philippine forces at Corregidor in May of 1942, it took them two more months to defeat them on the other major islands. Throughout the Archipelago, a few thousand U.S. and Philippine forces that had managed to avoid death or capture served as nuclei for the formation of various guerilla groups. By way of submarine delivery and a few airdrops, the Allies were able to keep them supplied with weapons, ammunition, explosives, radios and medicine.

A few additional U.S. troops were inserted into the islands to help organize and coordinate the various guerilla groups. The allied guerilla activities caused the Japanese to retain more infantry and aircraft in the Philippines than they had intended. With airpower, the Japanese were able to prevent the guerillas from billeting in large formations or moving on roads and trails except at night. Though the guerillas were usually unable to cause significant casualties to the occupying Japanese troops, the drain on Japanese forces further hampered the Japanese advance to the South and the Southeast. This helped the Allies in coming to grips with the Japanese in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

 

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor, Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor,
Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

 

By the middle of 1944, General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command (SWPC) had managed to leapfrog its way up the northern coast of New Guinea. In September, Allied forces captured Morotai in the Dutch East Indies. The Allies quickly built a large, reinforced runway on the island, which provided SWPC with a valuable base of operations for heavy bombers and long-range reconnaissance against the Japanese forces in the southern half of the Philippines. The U.S. Navy sent carrier groups under Task Force 38, commanded by Admiral William Halsey, to conduct repeated raids against the various Japanese airbases in the central and northern Philippines. The raids were highly successful in destroying Japanese planes at a surprisingly low cost to the pilots of TF 38.

 

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944 image from U.S. Navy

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944
image from U.S. Navy

 

The Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) had allocated resources to SWPC for an invasion of the southern Philippines in late December. Halsey and his staff were convinced that Japanese airpower had suffered a terrible attrition not just in numbers, but also in declining quality of pilots. Based on intelligence information from guerilla groups throughout the Philippines and on the minimal opposition that pilots had faced during their repeated raids, Halsey felt certain that the U.S. invasion of the Philippines should be moved up from December to October, and that they should strike in the central Philippines to quickly defeat the main Japanese formations. General Douglas MacArthur concurred with Halsey’s assessment.

By 1944, based on Admiral Halsey’s many successes against the Japanese, his reputation had grown to epic proportions, and he had the trust of both the CCS and the Allied political leaders. Wisely, MacArthur left it to Halsey to make the recommendation to the CCS that the invasion timetable be moved up. With offensive operations taking place on multiple fronts from Europe to the Pacific, the competition for supplies and shipping to support operations was a limiting factor in Allied offensive operations around the globe. Halsey’s reputation carried the day, and the CCS quickly agreed to his recommendations.

 

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte
Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

 

On October 20, 1944, the U.S. Sixth Army landed on the eastern shore of Leyte, northeast of Mindanao Island. The Japanese general staff underestimated the strength of the U.S. forces supporting the invasion. In conjunction with waves of kamikaze air attacks, the Japanese launched a complicated, three pronged attack with the majority of their remaining naval ships in an attempt to destroy the U.S. landing forces.

A series of large naval battles ensued from October 23 through 26. The combined might of the U.S. surface ships, carrier planes, and submarines ensured a disastrous defeat for the Japanese Navy. The defeat was so complete that the Japanese Navy was never again able to attempt any major engagements for the remainder of the war. Henceforth, the entire Japanese Navy became a kamikaze force.

Once the U.S. 6th Army was ashore on Leyte Island, the Philippine guerillas attached themselves to them, volunteering to handle scouting and sabotage missions. The newly supplied guerillas were able to befuddle Japanese defensive maneuvers on Leyte by blowing up the right bridges and telephone lines at just the right time while the 6th Army conducted its offensive. Their efforts undoubtedly saved thousands of U.S. lives.

 

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944 image from U.S. National Archives

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944
image from U.S. National Archives

 

Although fierce fighting by well dug-in Japanese troops continued for several months, the 6th Army was able to launch an attack on nearby Mindoro Island on December 15, 1944. Mindoro Island is located south of Luzon, and it offered a perfect location for fighter bases to support any future operations against the large Japanese Army formations on Luzon Island. The Japanese had expected the next assault to come elsewhere, and they had not reinforced their garrison on Mindoro. The results of their miscalculation were disastrous. The 6th Army had complete control of Mindoro by December 18.

To confuse the Japanese about allied intentions, Philippine guerillas conducted major sabotage operations in southern Luzon while the U.S. conducted air raids against southern Luzon. When U.S. minesweepers appeared in southern Luzon harbors the Japanese were convinced that a landing and would soon be conducted. It would, but in another area much further north.

 

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders to the beaches of Luzon. 1945

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders
to the beaches of Luzon. 1945
image from U.S. National Archives

 

On January 9, 1945, U.S. forces stormed ashore at Lingayan Gulf. The surprised Japanese offered little resistance. In an amphibious assault that out-scaled the Normandy landings, the U.S. landed 176,000 troops within three days. Japanese General Yamashita, the Tiger of Manila, could see a very effective trap for his army forming in southern Luzon, and he ordered half his army to retreat to the northern mountains of Luzon while the other half moved to block the expected allied assault on Manila. Yamashita hoped to minimize the U.S. advantages of complete air supremacy and armored formations by fighting a prolonged defensive action in the mountains of northern Luzon. It was a wise move on his part.

In the late hours of February 3, the lead elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry reached Santo Tomas University on the outskirts of Manila. The campus had been used as a prison for U.S., Philippine, Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch civilians. The U.S. troops were shocked by the emaciated condition of the prisoners.  The nightmare was just beginning.

Before they could be ensnared, General Yamashita took his southern force out of the Luzon area to join the rest of his army in the north. Before Yamashita had left Manila, he placed Vice Admiral Denshichi Okochi in charge. He ordered Okochi to destroy the port facilities, declare Manila an open city, and escape northward.

MacArthur’s staff ordered that fire from tanks and artillery only be used selectively and at close ranges to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. Sadly, an estimated 1,200 Filipinos died from U.S. fire. Sadly, that was the least of the suffering for the inhabitants of Manila.

Admiral Okochi had ignored Yamashita’s orders. Instead of leaving, he used his force of 20,000, consisting of Naval Special Troops and other naval and army troops, to make a last stand in Manila. In a war defined by ruthless Japanese atrocities, Okochi and his men engaged in one of the worst atrocities of the war in the Pacific. Women of all ages were raped and murdered. Hospitals were set afire with patients tied to their beds. Babies were torn from their mothers’ arms and mutilated.

It took the allied forces another month of non-stop, heavy urban fighting to clear the Japanese from Manila. In the final hours of the battle, Admiral Okochi and his staff committed ritual seppuku. At his orders, his forces had raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered about 100,000 Filipino civilian inhabitants of Manila. The fighting reduced most of the city’s historical buildings to rubble.  Allied commanders had grown accustomed to the Japanese military’s barbaric crimes. However, Okochi’s savagery against civilians in Manila and the many other war crimes committed against Philippine civilians and POWs further inflamed Allied anger against Japan and ultimately helped President Truman make his difficult final decision to use atomic bombs against Japan in August of 1945.

 

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945 image from wikimedia commons

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945
image from wikimedia commons

 

On February 27, 1945, Manila was considered safe for the return of the Philippine government. At Malacañang Palace, a formal ceremony was conducted to install Sergio Osmeña as the President of all of the Philippines. The last pockets of Japanese defenders were not cleared until March 3. At a horrible cost, Manila, or the little that was left of it, was now free. Fighting continued in the Philippines until after the Japanese surrendered on September 2. About 15,000 Allies had lost their lives. Fighting against superior U.S. firepower and U.S. air supremacy, the Japanese had lost about 338,000 soldiers and sailors. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, about one million Filipino civilians were murdered or lost their lives to starvation and Japanese abuse.

After the war, the Philippine people rebuilt Manila into a capital city. The ground beneath the city is considered by the Philippine people to be their most sacred ground.

In 1946, fifty hard years after revolutionary scholar and poet Dr. José Rizal left his goodbye poem to Manila, My Last Farewell, in his prison cell on his execution day, the Philippine people received their independence. His dream was finally realized.

Manila — Triumph Over Devastation

By Jay Holmes

In The Scream Heard Around the World–Manila, Part 1, we saw the far-reaching effects of a speech given by Carlos Cespedes in Cuba and how it spawned a movement for freedom in both Cuba and the Philippines. In The Battle That Wasn’t–Manila, Part 2, we looked at how the reach of that scream carried on through a poem by Dr. Jose Rizal and influenced the course of a nation. In A Nation Becoming and the Battle for Manila, we investigated the challenges the budding Philippine nation faced, as well as the WWII Japanese invasion and the Bataan Death March. Today, we review the Japanese occupation of Manila, WWII, and the realization of Dr. Rizal’s dream.

After the Japanese defeated the main formations of U.S. and Philippine forces at Corregidor in May of 1942, it took them two more months to defeat them on the other major islands. Throughout the Archipelago, a few thousand U.S. and Philippine forces that had managed to avoid death or capture served as nuclei for the formation of various guerilla groups. By way of submarine delivery and a few airdrops, the Allies were able to keep them supplied with weapons, ammunition, explosives, radios and medicine.

A few additional U.S. troops were inserted into the islands to help organize and coordinate the various guerilla groups. The allied guerilla activities caused the Japanese to retain more infantry and aircraft in the Philippines than they had intended. With airpower, the Japanese were able to prevent the guerillas from billeting in large formations or moving on roads and trails except at night. Though the guerillas were usually unable to cause significant casualties to the occupying Japanese troops, the drain on Japanese forces further hampered the Japanese advance to the South and the Southeast. This helped the Allies in coming to grips with the Japanese in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

 

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor, Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor,
Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

 

By the middle of 1944, General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command (SWPC) had managed to leapfrog its way up the northern coast of New Guinea. In September, Allied forces captured Morotai in the Dutch East Indies. The Allies quickly built a large, reinforced runway on the island, which provided SWPC with a valuable base of operations for heavy bombers and long-range reconnaissance against the Japanese forces in the southern half of the Philippines. The U.S. Navy sent carrier groups under Task Force 38, commanded by Admiral William Halsey, to conduct repeated raids against the various Japanese airbases in the central and northern Philippines. The raids were highly successful in destroying Japanese planes at a surprisingly low cost to the pilots of TF 38.

 

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944 image from U.S. Navy

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944
image from U.S. Navy

 

The Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) had allocated resources to SWPC for an invasion of the southern Philippines in late December. Halsey and his staff were convinced that Japanese airpower had suffered a terrible attrition not just in numbers, but also in declining quality of pilots. Based on intelligence information from guerilla groups throughout the Philippines and on the minimal opposition that pilots had faced during their repeated raids, Halsey felt certain that the U.S. invasion of the Philippines should be moved up from December to October, and that they should strike in the central Philippines to quickly defeat the main Japanese formations. General Douglas MacArthur concurred with Halsey’s assessment.

By 1944, based on Admiral Halsey’s many successes against the Japanese, his reputation had grown to epic proportions, and he had the trust of both the CCS and the Allied political leaders. Wisely, MacArthur left it to Halsey to make the recommendation to the CCS that the invasion timetable be moved up. With offensive operations taking place on multiple fronts from Europe to the Pacific, the competition for supplies and shipping to support operations was a limiting factor in Allied offensive operations around the globe. Halsey’s reputation carried the day, and the CCS quickly agreed to his recommendations.

 

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte
Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

 

On October 20, 1944, the U.S. Sixth Army landed on the eastern shore of Leyte, northeast of Mindanao Island. The Japanese general staff underestimated the strength of the U.S. forces supporting the invasion. In conjunction with waves of kamikaze air attacks, the Japanese launched a complicated, three pronged attack with the majority of their remaining naval ships in an attempt to destroy the U.S. landing forces.

A series of large naval battles ensued from October 23 through 26. The combined might of the U.S. surface ships, carrier planes, and submarines ensured a disastrous defeat for the Japanese Navy. The defeat was so complete that the Japanese Navy was never again able to attempt any major engagements for the remainder of the war. Henceforth, the entire Japanese Navy became a kamikaze force.

Once the U.S. 6th Army was ashore on Leyte Island, the Philippine guerillas attached themselves to them, volunteering to handle scouting and sabotage missions. The newly supplied guerillas were able to befuddle Japanese defensive maneuvers on Leyte by blowing up the right bridges and telephone lines at just the right time while the 6th Army conducted its offensive. Their efforts undoubtedly saved thousands of U.S. lives.

 

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944 image from U.S. National Archives

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944
image from U.S. National Archives

 

Although fierce fighting by well dug-in Japanese troops continued for several months, the 6th Army was able to launch an attack on nearby Mindoro Island on December 15, 1944. Mindoro Island is located south of Luzon, and it offered a perfect location for fighter bases to support any future operations against the large Japanese Army formations on Luzon Island. The Japanese had expected the next assault to come elsewhere, and they had not reinforced their garrison on Mindoro. The results of their miscalculation were disastrous. The 6th Army had complete control of Mindoro by December 18.

To confuse the Japanese about allied intentions, Philippine guerillas conducted major sabotage operations in southern Luzon while the U.S. conducted air raids against southern Luzon. When U.S. minesweepers appeared in southern Luzon harbors the Japanese were convinced that a landing and would soon be conducted. It would, but in another area much further north.

 

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders to the beaches of Luzon. 1945

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders
to the beaches of Luzon. 1945
image from U.S. National Archives

 

On January 9, 1945, U.S. forces stormed ashore at Lingayan Gulf. The surprised Japanese offered little resistance. In an amphibious assault that out-scaled the Normandy landings, the U.S. landed 176,000 troops within three days. Japanese General Yamashita, the Tiger of Manila, could see a very effective trap for his army forming in southern Luzon, and he ordered half his army to retreat to the northern mountains of Luzon while the other half moved to block the expected allied assault on Manila. Yamashita hoped to minimize the U.S. advantages of complete air supremacy and armored formations by fighting a prolonged defensive action in the mountains of northern Luzon. It was a wise move on his part.

In the late hours of February 3, the lead elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry reached Santo Tomas University on the outskirts of Manila. The campus had been used as a prison for U.S., Philippine, Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch civilians. The U.S. troops were shocked by the emaciated condition of the prisoners.  The nightmare was just beginning.

Before they could be ensnared, General Yamashita took his southern force out of the Luzon area to join the rest of his army in the north. Before Yamashita had left Manila, he placed Vice Admiral Denshichi Okochi in charge. He ordered Okochi to destroy the port facilities, declare Manila an open city, and escape northward.

MacArthur’s staff ordered that fire from tanks and artillery only be used selectively and at close ranges to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. Sadly, an estimated 1,200 Filipinos died from U.S. fire. Sadly, that was the least of the suffering for the inhabitants of Manila.

Admiral Okochi had ignored Yamashita’s orders. Instead of leaving, he used his force of 20,000, consisting of Naval Special Troops and other naval and army troops, to make a last stand in Manila. In a war defined by ruthless Japanese atrocities, Okochi and his men engaged in one of the worst atrocities of the war in the Pacific. Women of all ages were raped and murdered. Hospitals were set afire with patients tied to their beds. Babies were torn from their mothers’ arms and mutilated.

It took the allied forces another month of non-stop, heavy urban fighting to clear the Japanese from Manila. In the final hours of the battle, Admiral Okochi and his staff committed ritual seppuku. At his orders, his forces had raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered about 100,000 Filipino civilian inhabitants of Manila. The fighting reduced most of the city’s historical buildings to rubble.  Allied commanders had grown accustomed to the Japanese military’s barbaric crimes. However, Okochi’s savagery against civilians in Manila and the many other war crimes committed against Philippine civilians and POWs further inflamed Allied anger against Japan and ultimately helped President Truman make his difficult final decision to use atomic bombs against Japan in August of 1945.

 

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945 image from wikimedia commons

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945
image from wikimedia commons

 

On February 27, 1945, Manila was considered safe for the return of the Philippine government. At Malacañang Palace, a formal ceremony was conducted to install Sergio Osmeña as the President of all of the Philippines. The last pockets of Japanese defenders were not cleared until March 3. At a horrible cost, Manila, or the little that was left of it, was now free. Fighting continued in the Philippines until after the Japanese surrendered on September 2. About 15,000 Allies had lost their lives. Fighting against superior U.S. firepower and U.S. air supremacy, the Japanese had lost about 338,000 soldiers and sailors. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, about one million Filipino civilians were murdered or lost their lives to starvation and Japanese abuse.

After the war, the Philippine people rebuilt Manila into a capital city. The ground beneath the city is considered by the Philippine people to be their most sacred ground.

In 1946, fifty hard years after revolutionary scholar and poet Dr. José Rizal left his goodbye poem to Manila, My Last Farewell, in his prison cell on his execution day, the Philippine people received their independence. His dream was finally realized.

Philippines Becoming and the Bataan Death March–Manila, Part 3

By Jay Holmes

In The Scream Heard Around the World–Manila, Part 1, we saw the far-reaching effects of a speech given by Carlos Cespedes in Cuba and how it spawned a movement for freedom in both Cuba and the Philippines. In The Battle That Wasn’t–Manila, Part 2, we look at how the reach of that scream carried on through a poem and influenced the course of a nation. Today, we investigate the challenges the budding Philippine nation faced, as well as the WWII Japanese invasion.

Battle of Manila, 1898 U.S. National Archives

Battle of Manila, 1898
U.S. National Archives

After the U.S. destroyed the Spanish fleet, captured Manila, and subsequently defeated Emilio Aguinaldo and his guerilla forces, the long and slow process of organizing a government for the Philippines began. The young Philippine legislature faced serious challenges to the implementation of unified government.

One major obstacle to overcome was the tremendous cultural and linguistic diversity of the 8,000,000 inhabitants of the Philippine islands, who were mainly bonded by two unifying forces. The primary unifying force was the Philippine occupation by Europeans. When Europeans staked their claims over the islands, the various tribes that had lived in a state of enmity and territorial struggle against each other saw that they generally had more in common with each other than with the foreign invaders. The very presence of occupiers from distant lands helped some tribes to begin to overcome age-old animosities.

The second unifying force in the Philippines was the Catholic Church and its Spanish missionaries. The success of these priests varied from one area to another. In some cases, they were despotic and resented by many of their new “flock.” Working in their favor, though, was the fact that the often-brutal Spanish military forces were reluctant to incur the wrath of the missionaries. This left the priests in the position of being the protectors of the islanders against the excesses of the Spanish occupiers. Overall, the missionaries were remarkably successful in converting the majority of the Philippine people to the Catholic faith, and that religious dynamic helped the vast array of Philippine tribes to find a national identity.  One notable exception is that many of the Islamic Philippine people in southern areas were resistant to conversion to Christianity. Even today, they remain a separate group of sub-cultures that do not identify with Philippine nationalism.

map from wikimedia commons, public domain

map from wikimedia commons, public domain

Another great challenge that the Spanish and later American occupiers faced was the geography of the Philippines. The precise number of islands in the Philippines remains a topic of debate for geographers, but the Philippine government currently accepts 7,107 populated islands as the correct figure. Having a national population divided on so many islands was, in itself, a huge challenge for national identity. Governing the Philippines was made even more difficult by the fact that most of the islands are mountainous, and many of those mountains remain active volcanos. Add to that the fact that the rich soil and tropical climate generate jungle and rain forest vegetation over most of the landmass, and operating an effective government in the Philippines becomes extraordinarily difficult.

In 1935, the U.S. and the Philippine National Assembly agreed that the Philippines should be able to achieve full independence by 1945. The U.S. granted the Philippines commonwealth status, and General Douglas MacArthur was appointed chief military advisor.

General Douglas MacArthur image by Department of Defense located in Truman Library

General Douglas MacArthur
image by Department of Defense
located in Truman Library

In 1937, MacArthur retired from the U.S. Army. According to him, he then begrudgingly accepted the title of Field Marshall of the fledgling Philippine Army, so as “to not insult the Oriental sensibilities” of Philippine President Quezon. According to Philippine President Manuel Quezon, MacArthur had demanded the title of Field Marshall, and although Quezon and the U.S. Army thought it was a bit ridiculous, he agreed to the demand because he recognized MacArthur’s skills as a brilliant administrator and military leader and wanted him to remain in charge of the development of the Philippine Army.

While Japan continued to extend its conquest of China and the U.S. remained hesitant to become extensively involved, MacArthur, with very limited resources, began to build a Philippine Army. Though the recruits were enthusiastic, their lack of equipment and supplies severely hampered their development.

USS Shaw exploding during Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 image from National Archives

USS Shaw exploding
during Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941
image from U.S. National Archives

On December 7, 1941, any doubt about U.S. involvement in a war in the Pacific evaporated when a Japanese naval task force conducted a carrier raid on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor and nearby Hickam Airfield. The Japanese enjoyed early naval and air superiority in the Philippines area, and from December 8 to December 22, they landed around 130,000 well-equipped, well-trained troops in the Philippines.

The Japanese were so confident in planning their Philippines campaign that they estimated they would vanquish MacArthur’s force of 150,000 mostly untrained, poorly equipped troops in only three weeks, by January 15. Their timetable for Japanese conquest of the South Pacific was built on this assumption. They intended to swiftly conquer the Philippines and then use the majority of the same ships and air forces that winter for the conquest of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, and for attacks on Australia. The Japanese were to be disappointed.

General MacArthur’s troops fought well past the Japanese January 15 deadline. However, by March, it was clear to U.S. President Roosevelt that the U.S. would not be able to break through the Japanese to reinforce the Philippines, and that the Japanese would soon complete their conquest of the island nation. Roosevelt ordered General MacArthur to make his escape.

MacArthur left from Corregidor for Terowie, Australia by way of U.S. PT boats. On March 20 in Terowie, MacArthur made his famous proclamation, “I came through, and I shall return.”

Surrender of American Troops at Corregidor, May 1942 image from National Archives

Surrender of American Troops at Corregidor,
May 1942
image from U.S. National Archives

The U.S. and its allies continued fighting and held out until their surrender on May 8, 1942. That surrender is remembered as one of the worst military defeats in U.S. history. However, by holding out so long, the allied soldiers had managed to disrupt the Japanese plans for the destruction of Australia. The Japanese lost around 30,000 soldiers in the Battle of the Philippines, and many of the remaining soldiers were unfit for further combat. The Japanese High Command was beside itself that things had taken that long.

Bataan Death March, image public domain

Bataan Death March,
image public domain

The conquering Japanese forces treated the defeated U.S., allied, and Philippine forces barbarically. Japanese troops murdered many of the surrendered troops for recreation as they marched their prisoners 90 miles without food or water in the sweltering heat. That forced march in which nearly 11,000 prisoners died is remembered as the Bataan Death March.

Thousands more soldiers died during captivity in P.O.W. camps due to starvation, torture, and lack of medical care. Those American and Philippine soldiers that did manage to survive the Bataan Death March and the subsequent three and a half years of brutal captivity are still remembered with well-deserved reverence by U.S. and Philippine military personnel. Sadly, the Japanese Army treated innocent Philippine civilians with a similar contempt and brutality.

Prisoners, Bataan Death March image from National Archives

Prisoners, Bataan Death March
image from U.S. National Archives

It would take two and a half long, bloody years of war before MacArthur could make good on his pledge to return to the Philippines. In our next episode we will examine the liberation of Manila.